Stonehill Reimagines its Library for Students Raised in the Digital Age

October 12, 2017


A new energy coursing through the stacks and spaces inside MacPháidín Library makes it abundantly clear that this beloved campus resource has advanced far beyond a repository of books and place of quiet contemplation.

From its meeting rooms and electronic resources to its programming and progressive leadership, the library has undergone a series of changes aimed at becoming a high-tech 21st-century learning center — one that caters to millennial and Generation Z students who have grown up with information available at the swipe of a finger.

“The iPhone generation has such an advantage when it comes to libraries,” said Library Director Cheryl McGrath. “They can collaborate with fellow students on a project from across campus via the cloud. They can download books and articles from their dorm at 2 a.m. when the library is closed.”

Because they no longer have to come to the library to access many of the materials needed for their courses, McGrath is spearheading several initiatives that expand the library’s mission in ways that complement the way today’s students learn.

Greater Learning Through More Effective Collaboration

At the heart of that mission is creating spaces, resources and opportunities for faculty and students to design and enhance learning through innovation and collaboration. One new resource serving that goal is the Collaboratory for Innovative Design, which offers space, resources and opportunities for collaboration while providing the type of centralized coordination that keeps group projects focused and on target.

Another is the Digital Innovation Lab, which is currently focused on two major projects:

  • Teaching web design and development to students and faculty, which will allow them to publish blogs, professional websites and sites where they can share their coursework to a broader audience.
  • Supporting faculty in the production of public and course-based podcasts.

The lab employs several students with expertise in digital media production and programming. “Our student Digital Fellows serve as peer tutors in the lab, assisting other students with the creation of digital artifacts, from documentary videos to PowerPoints that don’t put people to sleep,” said Professor Scott Cohen, the lab’s director.

A New Type of DisCo Proves Popular With Students, Professors

A third initiative is MacPháidín’s new Discovery and Collaboration Space, known as the “DisCo.” It is outfitted with state-of-the-art technology designed to maximize learning outcomes for students weaned on touch screens and wireless connectivity.

 “The DisCo is one of my favorite things on campus,” said Tommy Farrell ’17, who recently graduated with a major in mediated communication and minors journalism and English. “The room is awesome for group projects.”

He offered as an example a media criticism class in which he and his classmates had to create a children’s book about media literacy and internet safety. “We used the DisCo’s collaborative screens to create an online ABC book of media literacy. We were able to put the book up on the screen for every member of the group to see and work on,” he said.

Professors have been equally impressed. Bettina Scholz, associate professor of Political Science, said she’s loved using the DisCo — with its movable desks, projection screens, ample space and high-tech equipment — for group projects and class discussion. Rather than traditional PowerPoint presentations “with everyone sitting passively and watching, they can create interactive presentations,” she said. “It allows them to unleash their creativity.”

New Programming and Tools to Find Data and Discern Its Value

In addition to reimagining ways in which to foster collaboration, the library is introducing tools and creating programs to help students better navigate the world of digital information.

A prime example is a recently introduced learning module designed to give students the skill set needed to determine the veracity of digital information. The module — “Recognizing Fake News” ­— can be added to any eLearn course site to assist both students and faculty.

Another example is the library’s newest data discovery tool. Stonehill was one of a handful of colleges — including MIT and Stanford — that beta-tested Yewno, software that filters through only trusted, academic, research resources to help students discover connections between concepts when researching. They can then discover a range of materials accessible on the library shelves, within databases and ebook packages the library subscribes to, and through interlibrary loan, explained McGrath. The testing worked out so well that the College recently signed a five-year license.

 “The information resources we can provide for our students to discover is now well beyond what any small college would normally license, and provides an equality of access to information for our students,” McGrath said.

In addition, the librarians this fall will be launching another tool: the Information Literacy Framework, which is designed to help faculty through online modules and curriculum that will save professors precious classroom time previously spent teaching research methods — time that can now be devoted to deeper explorations of the content areas where faculty are experts. 

Already, the library is piloting/testing the ILFramework with a few faculty/classes and is getting good feedback so far. 

It all adds up to a more efficient and effective learning experience.

Said Tommy Farrell, “Their website is definitely easier to use now than it was my freshman year. They do mobile printing now. The computers are all updated. It’s made my learning experience more efficient.”

Added Cohen, “Access to cutting-edge tools like Yewno, along with state-of-the-art collaborative spaces and tools, contributes to making the library a vital part of student learning, discovery and creation.”